Enjoying a bit of Premium Service

I’ve taken the United Airlines p.s. flights a couple times between New York City and the west coast, but always in coach. They were, to be frank, not all that special. Really not much “premium” about them in the back. In the business or first class cabins it is a whole different story, or so I’d been told. This weekend’s trip to Los Angeles finally gave me a chance to find out for myself. Thanks to a friend with extra CR1 upgrades lying around I managed to find myself in seat 10A, a window seat in the business class cabin of the Boeing 757-200.

One nice thing about the p.s. premium cabin service is that it includes lounge access. Of course, in New York that means the somewhat tired Red Carpet Club, but it is better than nothing. They had some yogurt out as well as fruit juices on the bar. And since I was in a premium cabin they even gave me drink chits for the alcoholic beverages when I went in. Not so bad. Still, that lounge needs some work. At least it wasn’t too crowded at 7:45am.

Boarding was quick and easy. It is amazing what reducing the number of seats on a plane by 30% will do to ease the boarding process. Plenty of overhead bin space and everyone was able to get settled into their seats pretty quickly.

The seats are the same as the old international business product seats. They aren’t my favorite, to say the least. Adjusting them is a very manual process and getting them “right” is something I have yet to master. Still, plenty of room to stretch out and work. It didn’t hurt that the seat next to me was empty on the flight, giving me even more space.

The meal service in business class is also a premium product. Printed menus and table cloths and quality glassware for the drinks. I had one drink on the flight – it was early and I was also working during the trip and needed to be somewhat coherent – and it was juts fine. Not really my favorite flavor but I figured it would be worth trying the featured drink in the menu. And the food – I had the pancakes – was, well, airplane food. Certainly not gourmet by any stretch but better than the Buy-on-Board boxes offered up in the back. One very nice thing was that the meal service was on-demand. The couple in front of me chose to sleep for the first three hours of the flight and they got their breakfast when they woke up.

In-flight entertainment was provided by both overhead monitors and personal media players distributed by the flight attendants. I don’t know how anyone could even consider watching the overhead monitors on the plane. I had a view of six from my seat. One was completely dysfunctional and the other five were all different colors while watching the same content. I’m not all that surprised as most folks in the cabin were just using the portable devices the FAs were handing out, but it is still a bad overall representation of the product and the brand to have the systems in such a state of disrepair.

The entire p.s. fleet also has Aircell’s gogo service available. I’m not a huge fan of paying for in-flight internet, but I had work to do and it was stuff I couldn’t load on to my laptop and do offline. So I sucked it up and paid the price. The service was pretty good this time, without any drops in performance or other troubles. I even uploaded a video to YouTube of our takeoff that morning during the flight and it made it through OK, albeit slowly.



Lest the above report sound like a bunch of griping, let me be clear: the trip was just about what I’d expect from a premium transcon product on a US legacy carrier. Maybe it is just that my expectations have be reasonably set low. If I can get my hands on more CR1s I’d certainly do it again, but I’m not going out of my way for it nor would I ever consider paying the fares that United charges. Sure, it is better than a poke in the eye (or coach) but not that much better that my budget would accept it. But I was up in the air, looking out at this, and that’s rarely a bad thing…

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. 1) Coach is better on these flights because the entire cabin has E+ legroom.

    2) United has really watered down this product over the years. I flew SFO-JFK two days and you can no longer get an imported beer of any kind IN FIRST CLASS!! No Heineken. No Corona. Only Miller and Miller Lite. Wow.

  2. Coach is better than what? Than United’s regular service? Yes. Than JetBlue? Nope. Than Virgin America? Maybe. Than Delta? Probably.

    Everything is relative, but the p.s. product is missing some of the “shine” that used to really make it special.

  3. @mark unless you don’t qualify for E+ on a non-PS plane, I consider E+ on the PS birds inferior because it actually has worse seat pitch than other aircraft.

    @Wandering Aramean Haven’t tried JetBlue, but extra E+ beats inflight entertainment on Virgin America for me, since I bring my own entertainment anyway.

    Now that UA has those new economy seats with AVOD coming into their 777 fleet, maybe they should put some shine back into the PS product by putting them into that aircraft as well (but what would they do with C/F?). Then again, with a possible CO merger, who knows what’s going to happen to PS.

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